Is the time for marching at hand?
By James Bishop Jr.
Sedona, AZ (December 15, 2011) – Why is the sky blue? Why does water always run downhill? Why does the moon shine? Ah, the wonder and insight of childhood where everywhere there is life, visible and invisible, and every object possesses something that would be good to have—even stones and pebbles by a lake where minnows play on its surface. Born with a sense of wonder, this great interest in life, this powerful emotion, for the young and the old, has long been an antidote for the feeling of emptiness and alienation. Children could feel it in a first grade classroom. However, by the time they’re in a 12th grade classroom a change is apparent. “Something happens between the first and 12th grade,” famed scientist Carl Sagan has observed, “and it is not just puberty.” What happens is that many lose their sense of wonder, or if they wonder, they don’t want to acknowledge that they’re wondering. ‘
To them, not to know the answers is a sign of inadequacy. In reality, how many teen-agers will admit to inadequacy? Evidence abounds that it is hard to get them to admit that there is anything they don’t know—or need to know.
For a series of reasons test scores of college students disclose, the young no longer spend much time wondering about the geographical world they live in, including where the U.S. is located on a world globe. What’s more they haven’t experienced wild nature even if it is in their own backyards, in streams, during hikes or out in the rain during a camping trip. Regrettably, research finds that visits to National Parks have been declining due to increasing absorption of electronic media by children. Teachers who have taught youth for years in California and Arizona observe that a sense of awe about nature – picnic on wild beaches, canoe trips, story-telling by campfire–has been replaced by a sense of awe over possessions, gadgets, clothing styles; such is the new awesome.
Fault for this alarming trend should not solely be placed at the feet of young students. It may also be partly the parents’ fault. Glued to the TV, Facebook, and You-tube they themselves have long since quit asking questions, and should their children ask them, they don’t listen, much less respond.
Wasn’t it author Gertrude Stein who stated that the important thing to consider was not “What is the answer”? But “What is the question”? In the same vein it was the matchless James Thurber who said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
Concern about children preferring indoor activities rather than spending time outdoors is becoming an alarming trend asserts Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods.” Although not recognized in medical manuals for mental disorders, Louv has coined the phenomenon ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ which he believes is caused not only by the lure of electronic screens for children, but by paranoid parents that have scared children, as Louv puts it, ‘straight out of the woods and fields.”
Down the line, the U.S. will pay for more and more youth—our nation’s seed corn– preferring the indoors to the outdoors. We will pay when environmental laws and regulations wither away because of less and less citizen support. Decades ago Aldo Leopold, a Forest Ranger, reflected that “we abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
In a wiser world, educators should be showing youth “another world outside of our own,” as Thoreau put it. In that other world, there’s the sound when we hold a sea shell up to an ear and hear the ocean; when one sees skies gone black as a summer monsoon approaches; or discover the first wildflower of spring poking up through the melting snow; a lizard sunning itself on a flat rock and tracks of wild creatures found at dawn on trails and in our gardens.
Put another way, our young should learn that no matter one’s state of mind, or emotional state, nature offers herself to their imagination, to their psyches, and calls them like the wild geese, exciting, harsh, over and over again announcing their place in the family of living things of which they are just one part. Only then will the words of Robinson Jeffers evoke a sense of wonder: “Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.”
In her new book, “Education: Dead end or renaissance” local author Adele Seronde asks, “Are we filling our children with excitement and joy in going to school? Are there places where that is happening, where students help their communities through communal, where they learn they are part of nature and that there’s another world out there, other than their own?”
Why isn’t everyone asking such questions as teachers are being let go, classroom sizes expanding, the arts cut back? Hasn’t the time come for marching?